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Garbage, Bugs and Cannibalism: The Picture Books of February
Kids love a good gross-out. So it's not surprising that children's authors go to yuck-inducing topics when trying to appeal to little ones. Sometimes, however, they also give us pleasantly surprising new takes on these moldy old chestnuts. These five exceptional picture books take the "Ick!" out of what could have been nasty subject matter.
Here Comes the Garbage Barge by Jonah Winter and Red Nose Studios (Schwartz & Wade, $18)
Author Winter gives readers a tongue-in-cheek retelling of the news-making 1987 true story of a boat captain stuck at sea with 3,200 tons of trash nobody wanted. Red Nose Studios appropriately illustrate the tale with photographed models constructed out of real rubbish. The resulting art looks like Claymation figures lost in one of those I Spy hidden-picture books. And it's fabulous.
Bag in the Wind by Ted Kooser, illustrated by Barry Root (Candlewick, $18)
Former U.S. Poet Laureate Kooser weaves us a subtly beautiful tale with the same general antipollution/pro-conservation message as Garbage Barge, but an entirely different look and tone (and it has nothing to do with that pretentious flying bag scene from American Beauty). The story follows a plastic bag (not an anthropomorphic, joke-telling bag -- just a bag) as it is swept across Edward Hopper-esque landscapes and zips in and out of the lives of a little girl, an old storekeeper, a homeless man, a garbage collector and others. A quiet, but thought-provoking book.
CandlewickInsect Detective by Steve Voake, illustrated by Charlotte Voake (Candlewick, $17)
Light, airy watercolors are not what you usually expect in a non-fiction book -- especially one about creepy-crawlies -- but Charlotte Voake's lovely art lends a suitably otherworldly feel to the insect kingdom. And her cousin Steve's straightforward, uncomplicated text delivers all the necessary information and still manages to convey a sense of awe.
The Humblebee Hunter by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Jen Corace (Hyperion, $17)
This is the first book we've seen to present Charles Darwin not just as a scientist, but as a father -- one whose adoring children aided in his research. What we get here is a little slice of life from the Darwin family, as the famed naturalist and his kids follow pollinating bees from flower to flower (with no apparent fear of being stung). At heart, this is a sweet tale about a family that likes to look at bugs together. And Jen Corace's uniquely stylized sketchwork and gorgeous color palate make the book a pleasure to look at.
Young Zeus by G. Brian Karas (Scholastic, $18)
This playful revisiting of classic Greek myths may be short on vermin and landfills, but it does feature a father who swallows his own children and is later made to vomit them back up. None of it is as gory or horrific as it sounds, though. This highly-sanitized version of Zeus's rise to power has gods squabbling like childish siblings and the Underworld being watched over by a Pokémon-looking dragon that has a soft spot for sweets. Karas manages to fill kids in on all the major plot points of the original tale without providing any nightmare fodder -- and still finding time for jokes.
Related: Red Ted and the Lost Things
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.